Polling for 40 seats in the final phase of the assembly elections in Assam began at 7 am on Tuesday to decide the fate of 337 candidates, including senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, his five cabinet colleagues and state BJP president Ranjeet Kumar Dass. People wearing masks and maintaining social distance were seen queuing outside polling stations even before the voting began in the 40 constituencies spread over 12 districts.
In several polling stations, the first voter and senior citizens were greeted with a 'gamosa' (traditional towel) and, in some cases, with saplings. Elections are being held amid tight security as 320 companies of security forces were deployed in the third phase, the highest among all the phases.
Altogether 79,19,641 voters -- 40,11,539 men, 39,07,963 women and 139 of the third gender -- are entitled to exercise their franchise in 11,401 polling stations. A total of 45,604 polling personnel have been deployed for this phase.
A direct contest between nominees of the BJP-led NDA and Congress-headed Grand Alliance is on the cards in 20 constituencies while there is a triangular fight, including friendly contests, in the remaining seats with the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) being considered as the third force.
The newly floated AJP is contesting in 22 seats while there are 126 independents in the fray in the final phase of the election in which the BJP-led coalition is seeking to return to power for the second term in a row. The fate of 20 sitting MLAs - eight from the Congress, five from the BJP, three each from the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the BPF and one from the AGP -- will be decided in the final phase.
Besides Himanta Biswa Sarma, other ministers who are in the fray included Chandra Mohan Patowary, Siddhartha Bhattacharya and Phanibhushan Choudhury. The BJP is contesting in 20 seats while its allies the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in nine and the United Peoples Party Liberal in eight, including a friendly contest between the BJP and the UPPL in Bijni.
The Congress has put up 24 candidates and its partners - the AIUDF in 12, the Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF) in eight and CPI(M) in one. The Congress and the AIUDF are engaged in friendly contests in the five constituencies of Jaleswar, Baghbar, Sarukhetri, Chenga and Barkhetri.